Hollywood Magic in Nova Scotia

Patio at Seaside Shanty, Parrsboro, Nova Scotia -- Photo by Johnny Winters
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By Fran Zell

Parrsboro, Nova Scotia (population 1100) is such a little-known treasure of a town that when I
told the Canadian border agent at Bridgewater, Maine where I was headed he said, “Where is
that?”


“It’s a small town on the Bay of Fundy,” I said and he waved me into New Brunswick for the
last leg of a four-day drive from Chicago. Not until I got there did I realize that this combination lobster fishing village and emerging arts community, where everyone plans the day around the ebb and flow of the world’s highest tides, is also one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Some say there’s a touch of magic in the air, thanks to the swirling energies wrapped into the pull of the moon against the powerful tides.

J Hollywood’s TaxiPhoto by Fran Zell

Not until I arrived did I also learn that there is a way to get to all the area’s many attractions at all hours of the day—beaches, trails, museums, golf course, even the Halifax airport two hours away—without your own car. No it’s not Uber or Lyft. That doesn’t exist in this corner of the world. It’s Johnny Hollywood, a super friendly rock musician and former semi pro hockey player whose popular new J Hollywood taxi/courier blends performance art with an above and beyond kind of service.

Rock’n roll– Photo by Fran Zell


You can usually spot Johnny zipping around town in a white Chevy Spark emblazoned with the J Hollywood logo on a classic yellow Checker cab background. He might be taking tourists from the Riverview Cottages east of town over to the Harbour View Restaurant for dinner, picking them up for the short ride to Two Islands Brewery for live entertainment, and then back to the Cottages, all for $20 and a cheerful getting-to-know-you conversation. Or you’ll see him dashing into Tim Horton’s on Main Street to pick up sandwiches for delivery to rural customers. And there he is again on a lawn chair, chatting with the guy he just brought a couple of propane refills to.


“I thought it was a cool gig and I thought there was a need for the service other than the one taxi company that was here,” Johnny says, taking a break from his practically non-stop rounds to talk about this new chapter in his life. “You couldn’t get a taxi after 6 o’clock at night and you couldn’t get one before 8 in morning. They didn’t run.”

View of Cape Split from West Bay Road, rural ParrsboroPhoto by Fran Zell


The taxi gig was something he dreamed about during the long COVID lockdown. When the
province opened up again in March of last year he put it into action. He says he knew he had two things going for him that would assure success: As a single person he had the flexibility and time to work long hours, and having grown up in Parrsboro, he knew a lot of people. “My business model from the start was availability, personality, and presentation,” he says. “I love people and after I did the research I just never looked back.” He says his determination also grew out of grief over his mother’s death from Alzheimer’s the previous spring, and memories of her enthusiasm for every dream he ever had.

The taxi gig is Part A of Johnny’s dream. Part B is the romantic little Caribbean-style seaside
shanty he built on a bluff high above the sea on the western edge of town. It is fully open this
summer for the first time. A bold and playful departure from the town’s mix of Dutch colonial
and gothic revival architecture, it offers remarkable vistas of tidal basin and sky from umbrellaed tables on a wraparound patio. It is one part art installation, and many parts work of love, a place where the door is always open whether Johnny is around or not. “Pints on the Patio,” beckons a sign in the crushed red volcanic rock parking area. And an ever increasing number of locals and tourists have been taking him up on the offer.

Johnny at the shanty–Photo by Fran Zell


“I acquired this property from my father when I was at university,” Johnny says. “I wasn’t able to do anything with it then or later when I was working in Halifax and the Annapolis Valley.” He’s referring to his 11-year stint as a counselor to young offenders for the provincial Department of Justice. It was also a time when he was immersed in hockey and music. His then girlfriend, like Johnny, played guitar and sang. “We did a lot of house parties and played small venues in Halifax,” he says, mostly covers for Santana, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and more. When the relationship ended and the job ran its course, he returned home to Parrsboro, where he and a friend started a fishing charter.


“From 2002 until about three years ago, we took tourists on day-long excursions across the bay to fish flounder.” When COVID hit, his partner took another job. “I couldn’t do the charter by myself so I got the idea to start my own taxi.”

Johnny outside Seaside Shanty–Photo by Fran Zell

He wanted it to be stylishly dramatic. “Hence,” as he likes to say, he registered the business
under the name Johnny Hollywood. His given name is Johnny Winters, but Hollywood is what
the kids called him back at Parrsboro High when he was a budding guitarist and then, as now, dressed in Hawaiian shirts, shorts and flip flops, and hung out at the beach.

It was while running the taxi, that he started thinking about the small property on Whitehall Road where the Seaside Shanty now sits. It’s just above the Ship’s Company Theatre, just below the house where he grew up and currently lives with his elderly father, a retired serviceman with the Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers. “It was overgrown with trees and thorny bushes, a lot of them dead,” he says. “It was a mess.”


He talked about it over lunch with a friend who owns a small excavation landscaping company and the next day the guy came by with equipment to clear everything off. Then Johnny brought in the red volcanic rock—80 metric tons of it. The spot began to look somewhat like it did 50 years ago when he was a kid, and an old fisherman named Doane Phinney lived there in a shed that was once the deckhouse of a Nova Scotian coastal schooner.

“They called him an ‘old tar,’” Johnny recalls. “He had a dory that he would take into the bay
and fish. He used to row out. That many years ago there was no such thing as outboard engines.

“He was really kind, always had an apple or an orange for us when we walked past on our way to school. He used to roll his cigarettes with two fingers of one hand and he’d sit there in his little fisherman’s hat, raggedy shirt, old black cotton pants and funny boots. He’d always have a smoke going and always had a little cup of tea on his table outside on the porch. He was a neat old man.”


When Doane Phinney died the deckhouse was taken to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax where it was restored and is still on display. The owner of the land eventually sold it to Johnny’s father for $400 when he needed money to travel to a job in Western Canada.

Sea shanty– photo by Johnny Winters


“My ideas for the property went crazy after the land was cleared,” Johnny says. Being a sailor himself with a love of the sea, warm weather, and the beach, the Caribbean motif seemed the natural direction to go. Last summer it was just wood flooring and an open air tent with some tables and chairs and a barbecue outside for hot dogs and burgers and it was bring your own bottle. “I’d have friends down on summer nights and we’d sit and jam and other people started coming too,” Johnny says. “When I saw there was that much interest I decided to build something permanent.”


This decision triggered a visit from the municipal authorities, who put a “cease and desist” sign up, citing lack of building permit. Researching the law, Johnny learned that structures smaller than 215 square feet didn’t require a building permit. “So I called the head guy up in Amherst and told him I was going to keep building. I said, ‘Listen, bad weather is on its way and I have to get my windows in. I have to get this place up, I have too much stuff in here.’ That was on a Thursday. Friday morning they came down and measured and it was 208 square feet. So they took the sticker off the window.”

View of Minas Basin from Partridge Island, Parrsboro–photo by Fran Zell

Another regulation that came to his attention prompted Johnny to make alcoholic refreshments available only by donation, proceeds of which he routinely donates to the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society on behalf of his mom. All told he created what he envisioned: a beachy, laid-back place that’s rustic and warm, adorned with driftwood, seaweed, ferns, flowers, old treasure chests, and rock n roll memorabilia. At night it’s a sparkling fairyland of multi-colored solar lights.


When the tide is in and the stars are out and Johnny is entertaining on guitar, it’s an
incomparable experience. But no matter what time of day or height of the tide, it’s a place where you can walk in the door, tell people your name, drink in a magnificent landscape, and immerse yourself in what for most people these days is the lost art of human connection.

It’s all part of the magic of Parrsboro.

Photos by Johnny Winters and Fran Zell

About Fran Zell 9 Articles
Fran Zell is a freelance journalist, based in Chicago. She is a former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune. She also writes plays, short stories, and essays.

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